Firehouse’s ‘No Exit’ takes a theatrical risk and falls flat
“Hell is other people,” reads existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous line from his 1944 play, No Exit, referring to having to face one’s flaws through another’s consciousness.
In No Exit hell is a trio of incompatible and morally bankrupt individuals locked in a room together for eternity. No mirrors, no windows, constant light . . . and no exit.
As the play opens, the Valet (Evan Nasteff) leads the damned souls through a door one-by- one to their eternal prison, a sparsely furnished room whose door locks behind them in perpetuity.
Expecting torture chambers and other monstrosities, first Cradeu (dl Hopkins), then Inez (Bianca Bryan) and finally Estelle (McLean Jesse) are led to their shared doom only to realize that torture can be defined in many ways.
Initially, the trio lies to each other about the reason for their damnation. Eventually, however, they decide to confess their crimes to level the playing field.
Sartre’s point, I think, is not so much that their specific actions led to damnation, but that failure to seek any kind of redemption keeps them imprisoned.
As for specifics (without revealing too much) Cradeu lacks guilt for his actions, Estelle lacks the ability to see beyond her vanity, And Inez delights in her manipulative nature.
Much like the circular chicken or egg philosophical argument, Sartre’s reflection on the afterlife, specifically hell, is an unending argument with infinite possible outcomes that might be better suited to discussion amongst philosophy students than as a performance piece.
When the entire play is such a circular argument, there is no real way to build dramatic tension. And with overly-exaggerated performances by an otherwise stellar cast, the actual dramatic moment – a chance for them all to escape – falls flat.
But just as smart, thoughtful people disagree about the nature and even existence of the afterlife, so reasonable people may disagree on the merits of Sartre’s play.
My opinion is just that . . . mine.
Directed by James Ricks, who also provides the Sound Design, with Lighting Design by Andrew Bonniwell, and Stage Management by Nata Moriconi, Firehouse Theatre’s production of No Exit is an ambitious risk.
Was it worth it?
Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
Find out for yourself.
Three performances remain: Saturday 8/22 at 9:30 p.m., Sunday 8/23 at 2:30 p.m., and Monday 8/24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.firehousetheatre.org.
lie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. She’s the proud mom of two young adult men and is slowly adjusting to having them both away at college. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is the newest member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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